How do you choose your marketing activities?

I have been working with two new clients in recent weeks, and as usual we have started with a Marketing MOT. It’s a great way to get a proper feel for the business and what level its marketing is at.
One of the questions we always ask is why each of the marketing activities that are in the plan has been chosen. Over nearly 10 years of asking this question to small and medium sized businesses across a wide range of industries the three answers I have heard most often are:
“The competitors do it.”
Whether it is a fear of missing out, not wanting to look old-fashioned or just a hope that copying marketing activity will produce comparable results; this approach to marketing planning is remarkably common. There is nothing wrong with analysing the competitors’ marketing and certainly no need to do something different just for the sake of it, but if your business is offering something different to customers, finding a different mix of marketing activities can be a good way to grab their attention. It is also dangerous to assume that everything the competition do works well.
“We needed to increase sales.”
Picking marketing activities to fix a short term sales problem rarely works, and if it does deliver a sales boost it is likely to be short-lived and not cost-effective in the longer term. A strong marketing plan should deliver a consistent, measurable and sustainable increase in demand; filling the sales funnel with good quality prospects month after month, year after year.
“We’ve always done it.”
There’s no point changing activities for the sake of it, but usually when I hear this, a little digging reveals that there is no effective measurement of the activity so no-one is really sure if it is working or not. This lack of information means it can be risky to stop or cut back activities as they may be working. In this situation, a business can end up trapped, investing time and money year after year without really knowing what they are getting back.
The answer I hear all too rarely is “Because we measured it and know it delivers a good return on our investment.”
Which answer would you like to give?